Pure Hockey Commercials Part IV

Our last post provided some insight into how we, um, “casted” the commercials and included interviews with the “actors,” who actually turned out to be GREAT actors even though they weren’t actually actors. Did that make sense? Either way, today, in our fourth and final installment of a look behind the curtain at the making of the Pure Hockey TV commercials, we’ll look at the day we shot the Brad Marchand commercial and also have a quick chat with the man behind the vision, Director and Devils fan Rodrigo Lopez.

We were originally scheduled to shoot the Brad Marchand commercial on September 13, exactly one day after we shot the David Clarkson commercial down in New Jersey. There was just one problem: Marchand hadn’t signed a contract yet with the Bruins. So during the David Clarkson shoot, I found myself on the phone with Brad’s agent, trying to figure out what was going on. Then I went to Boston.com and saw trade rumors. We had a decision to make – spend the money on a TV production shoot for a player who might not play in Boston or roll the dice and shoot the commercial and hope Marchand signed? What would you do? He was skating with the team, so that was a good sign, right? Despite that, we opted out of shooting the commercial the next day – too risky.

The problem with that – we’d have to find a way to schedule Brad during the NHL season and let me tell you, that wasn’t easy. At all. Not only are you trying to coordinate the schedules of a TV production team at Neoscape, you’re also trying to schedule the two main actors and THEN Brad’s schedule. We had a few hit-and-misses and finally, finally, finally were able to shoot the commercial on Sunday, November 13th, the night after the Bruins played Buffalo and now known as the game where Milan Lucic ran over Ryan Miller.

All well and good. Most of us arrived at the Pure Hockey Braintree store at about 9am and it wasn’t long before we were shooting the first few scenes. In both TV shoots, we tried to get as much of the non-Marchand/Clarkson video shot before the player actually got there. So the scenes where Lou and Brian (store manager and assistant manager) are talking to each other were shot in the morning and the scenes with Brad were shot completely seperate, despite the fact that the commercial seems to flow pretty well. Tribute to Neoscape there (and all other TV production firms, I suppose this happens every day).

So Brad arrives at about 2pm and we usher him right into the office for prep and to sign a few things for the store. Keep in mind that we are contracted with Brad for only a few hours, so we wanted to keep his coming into Braintree pretty quiet to avoid too much fandom and to get our commercial shot. The first shot we did with Brad was the helmet scene, which seems to be people’s favorite, in general. Originally the helmet scene was a little more friendly. The way Neoscape had story-boarded this, Brad was to give the customer a few taps, fairly hard – and that’s how the first few shots went. Originally it was Brad giving him a pat on the head in quick succession – taptaptap. But it wasn’t enough. And it wasn’t hard enough. So we did another couple of takes with the taps in quick succession.

But something was missing. So I asked Rodrigo and Brad to slow down the hits, space them out a little, make ’em a little harder, then have a slightly odd pause – and then a final WHACK! That is what you see in the final version. Good stuff!

It wasn’t long, though, before word got out about Brad being in our store. In this immediate news world, people were posting to Twitter and Facebook that he was at the Braintree store shooting a commercial and soon enough, we had small crowds around us during each scene. Manageable, but a little distracting. We expected it on a Sunday in our busiest store, so it wasn’t a huge deal and Brad couldn’t have been more accomodating and patient with people. He signed a lot of stuff, posed for a lot of pictures and was very friendly.

We finished up about 6pm and that was that! The commercial came out awesome and the general public seems to have agreed!

One other funny little story – Brad hadn’t heard the comments that Ryan Miller made about Lucic, so we showed him the video in the office. He got a kick out of it for sure.

Finally, our verbosity about these commercials wouldn’t be complete without some input from the Director of both shoots, Neoscape’s Rodrigo Lopez. I haven’t done many TV commercial shoots, but I can tell you without pause that Rodrigo and the rest of his team were instrumental – no, crucial – in making sure these things went off without a hitch. To a person, the Neoscape crew was friendly, patient, fun and most importantly, super-prepared and focused. It was an absolute pleasure working with these guys. Here’s a quickie interview with Rodrigo:

So you directed all three Pure Hockey commercials over the past few months. Besides the total, complete, life-changing thrill of working with a company like Pure Hockey (ahem), what was the most enjoyable part of the process?

Well, there’s all the fame, fortune and recognition, which has been somewhat life-changing. But in all seriousness, what I enjoyed the most was watching the plan come together during shoot days. We always like to prepare just enough so that you leave room for spontaneity, particularly when there isn’t any time to rehearse. That approach definitely helped with these three spots.

Were these commercials materially different in any way than others that you’ve done in the “normal” course of your work?

These commercials were definitely a departure from the work I do on a daily basis at Neoscape, where I direct a lot of CG and VFX work for marketing films. We do a lot with live action and actors, but here the pressure was definitely on to direct spots that not only had to stand on their own, but be funny as well. We had good material to work with! Plus, we do our best work under pressure so this was a welcome challenge.

Were you surprised by how well our two store employees (Lou and Brian) were on camera? I mean, we basically had no cast for these things until the day of the first commercial!

I thought Marchand and Clarkson were incredibly funny, each in their own way, but I can’t imagine these spots with anyone other than Lou and Brian. They were awesome! When they first read for us on the morning of the Clarkson shoot down in Fairfield, I knew we had our guys. They looked like they had just walked off the set of Clerks – another Jersey masterpiece. I remember thinking to myself as we were wrapping up the shoot in New Jersey, “we need to get these guys up to Boston for the shoot at the Braintree store.” Luckily Jeff was able to make it work.

It’s a small sample size, but what were your thoughts and impressions re: working with professional athletes?

I’m not a big celebrity hound, but the few times I’ve been around athletes, and hockey players in particular, I’ve found them to be very humble and altogether normal. Clarkson and Marchand were no different. As a Devils fan I was excited to meet David Clarkson. I’ve been watching him drop gloves on TV for years but in person he was very down to earth and a super nice guy. Heck, I even had to show him how hard to check one of the employees during the shoot because he was afraid of hurting the guy! And what can you say about Brad Marchand? Everyone saw what he did in the playoffs during the Bruins Cup run last summer, and then for several weeks after that around every bar in Boston. I was even wondering if he’d show up to the shoot shirtless (he didn’t). On the day of his shoot in Braintree there were a ton of customers in the store, and he managed to not only put in one heck of a performance for the cameras, but also found time to sign plenty of autographs.

What was the most difficult part of the shoots, in your eyes?

I can’t think of anything that was particularly difficult, but shoots are always a bit nerve wracking. For the two player spots we were limited to a few hours with the talent – that’s where planning and a great crew make all the difference. I can say that often times what makes a shoot difficult is an over anxious clients, but working with Jeff/Pure Hockey was totally different. We collaborated very seamlessly during the creative and planning stages, and he had complete confidence in us once we went into the shoots. He even delivered his own award-winning performance as “the customer” in the Clarkson spot.

You think the Devils have ANY chance this year?

I really hope so. As a fan, I used to get a lot of mileage out of the fact that they won 3 cups in 8 years. But now that’s quickly becoming a distant memory. Plus, Brodeur needs one more cup to end his Hall of Fame career in style.

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